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M Hill foundation wants area to remain largely untamed

M Hill foundation wants area to remain largely untamed

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M Hill foundation wants area to remain largely untamed
M Hill, also known as Cowboy Hill, flanks Rapid Creek and the Rapid City bicycle path near Mountain View Road. The new hilltop park lands could become part of a network of bicycle paths and rugged mountain bike trails running the height and width of the city. (Photo by Steve McEnroe, Journal staff)

RAPID CITY n With the bulk of M Hill now set aside - thanks, Edna Larsen - city officials, mountain bikers and outdoor lovers can now start thinking about what to do with this undeveloped island in the middle of town.

As much as possible, officials say, it would be best to do as little as possible.

Yet they are also kicking around ideas for linking the hilltop parkland with the Skyline Wilderness to the south and the 12-mile bike path along Rapid Creek.

That could make Rapid City into a fat tire fantasy land and regional tourist destination for bicyclists and other outdoors lovers.

"Rapid City will be one of the few cities its size n any size, actually n that has this much space devoted to recreation in an open, wild setting," said Tim Rangitsch, owner of ACME Bicycles and an avid mountain biker. "It'll be great."

A private foundation

In October 2006, the 370-acre hilltop, also known as Cowboy Hill, was sold at auction by Nine Liens Partnership, a company owned by the sons and daughters of businessman Chuck Lien.

On the day of the sale, the Liens set aside 40 acres for the city of Rapid City - 20 acres donated and 20 acres sold to the city - as the Chuck Lien Family Park.

The remaining 330 acres, which includes nearly all of the hilltop, was sold at auction. The high bid, $2.64 million for the entire parcel, came from Overlook LLC, a limited liability company whose partners include brothers Dave and Mark Simpson.

However, the Simpsons were quick to point out that they were primarily interested in the easier-to-develop northern end, near Interstate 90. For the rest, they said they were bidding on behalf of a private foundation, which they declined to identify by name.

The foundation to be named later has now been named: The Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park Foundation.

Attorney Michael Diedrich, chairman of the foundation, said the foundation was created on behalf of the late Edna Larsen, the longtime Rapid City and Hermosa resident.

Edna Marie "Eddie" Larsen, was 93 when she died in July 2004. She was born in Rapid City, attended South Dakota School of Mines and spent most of her life in the area.

"Edna Larsen was a gracious, very nice lady who wanted to create public use parks," Diedrich said.

She had just two stipulations: it must be named for the Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park Foundation, and that no overnight camping be allowed in the park.

Wide open spaces

Diedrich said the foundation's goal is to keep the Hanson-Larsen land as undeveloped as possible. He said the foundation is in its very early stages of developing plans and policies for the 240-acre park.

"We want to leave it wild, but we also want to make it accessible," he said. So there might be a need to develop parking areas and other features. He said the foundation has some funds available for that.

The foundation has liability insurance, and the hilltop is currently open to the public for hiking, biking and other non-motorized uses, Diedrich said.

Diedrich said foundation officials have met with Jerry Cole, head of the city parks and recreation department, to coordinate their plans with what the city has in mind for the 40-acre Chuck Lien Family Park.

Lon VanDeusen, parks manager for the city of Rapid City, said the city will try to develop a management plan for the city's new park area.

For now, the main goal for both the city and the foundation is to block off the roads and other points of automobile access.

He said the management plan would likely include some trails, trailheads and signs.

Access points, especially, need to be identified, officials say, because much of the hill is surrounded by private property.

The city's long-term street plan calls for extending Anamosa Street west over the top of the hill, VanDeusen said. That might never happen, but it if does, that would be a good place to build trailheads and access points.

Rangitsch said work will need to be done to create a trail system that reduces erosion and leads riders and walkers on a low-impact route to the best views and vistas.

North-end neighborhood

Dave Simpson and his partners in Overlook LLC plan to acquire the 90-acre tract at the northwest end of the hill. He said the area will likely be developed for some type of residential use.

However, they don't have any specific plans for the property, Simpson said. Like the park people, they are still working out the details.

In the 1970s his father Frank Simpson bought a large tract of the land between the hill and Deadwood Avenue.

It is now home to industrial shops, office buildings, a church, a nursing home, twin homes, the Fountain Springs Golf Course and Harmony Heights Apartments.

The north end of the M Hill property abuts Harmony Heights Apartments. "We've been very familiar with that piece of property for some time," Dave Simpson said.

Outdoor USA

If the M Hill park lands are linked to the city's bike path and the Dinosaur Park/Skyline Drive Wilderness, it would indeed present some intriguing outdoor opportunities.

Rapid City could have a network of greenway-flanked bicycle paths and rugged mountain bike trails spanning the length and width of the city.

VanDeusen said the trail through the Gap might not be as wild and scenic as the rest of the network. In fact it might look something like a bicycle lane on Mountain View Road.

But if the city could acquire the necessary easements, it would be possible for a mountain biker to pedal from I-90 to the southern edge of Rapid City without dismounting.

Meanwhile, others are thinking about building a foot bridge near the Fish Sculpture, Diedrich said. That would give the public access to the hill from the existing parking lots.

And since we're engaging in bicycle fantasies, consider this: The old Milwaukee railroad line east of Rapid City has been set aside as a potential rails-to-trails project. Someday it might be possible to hop on a bicycle at the Alex Johnson Hotel and ride all the way through Badlands National Park to Kadoka.

In fact, Rapid City really could become a bicycling and mountain biking Mecca - think Sturgis without motors.

Rangitsch said other cities have had success turning themselves into mountain biking destinations. Moab, Utah, has attracted mountain bikers for years. And Fruita, Colo., has been working toward that goal as well.

Fat Tire Festival

Rapid City won't have to wait long to see what the region's mountain bikers think of the Chuck Lien Family Park/Hanson-Larsen Memorial Park.

The M Hill parks will play a prominent role in the first-ever Black Hills Fat Tire Festival, set for May 25-28.

Jerry Cole, director of Parks and Recreation, and the Rapid City Convention & Visitors Bureau are working with local mountain biking groups to organize the four-day gathering.

Rangitsch said more than 300 people could turn out for the Fat Tire Festival. Riders from Minneapolis, Omaha and Boise, Idaho, are coming, he said.

The festival - www.bhfattirefestival.com n has events spread throughout the area. However, several events, including group rides and a hill climb competition, take place on M Hill and Skyline Drive Wilderness.

The Hanson-Larsen Foundation's chairman, Mike Diedrich, said the Fat Tire Festival is a good use of the park.

"We want to make it available for things like that," Diedrich said. "We've initiated talks with other potential uses for the property. Whatever it ultimately is, it will be preserved and will provide good public access use."

Contact Dan Daly at 394-8421 or at dan.daly@rapidcityjournal.com

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